Boris Johnson has emerged as the frontrunner in a Brexit-battered leadership contest and India will be hoping for exactly what the entire UK also wants – clarity, writes India Inc. Founder & CEO Manoj Ladwa.
The boisterous Boris Johnson is by far the frontrunner in the race to lead a beleaguered Conservative Party and India will have some reasons for optimism around such a proposed elevation. Behind the perceived bumbling persona of the former Foreign Secretary lies a sharp mind and an astute politician, who has been a reliable friend to India.
As Theresa May’s party battles it out to pick its new Prime Minister, India is edging towards results day on May 23 when a new government – led by Narendra Modi in all likelihood – will win a mandate for the next five years to ensure the country’s growth trajectory carries on unhampered. The race for a new British PM is by no means a foregone conclusion, with Brexiteer Dominic Raab, the wily Michael Gove, Remainer Amber Rudd and the quietly confident Sajid Javid among just some Tory MPs trying to sharpen their bids. The swing factor in favour of any leader for a new Indian government would be his, or her, ability to bring in muchneeded certainty for its businesses, and indeed for the entire Brexit-worn UK.
With India set to overtake the UK in the world’s largest economy stakes, it is important any new incumbent in Downing Street sets out a clear vision for a truly winning partnership between the two countries. Some recent headline figures on Indian investment into the UK have undeniably come as a welcome respite for the Brexit-battered government. The CII-Grant Thornton ‘India Meets Britain Tracker’ for 2019 highlights an impressive jump in the number of companies active in the UK, up from 800 last year to 842 this year, creating nearly 105,000 jobs and bringing in £684 million in taxes for the Exchequer. Indian companies clearly remain bullish on the UK market despite Brexit, but some underlying issues of professional mobility and access continue to suppress the true potential of the trade and investment ties. India has never sought any preferential treatment on visa and immigration matters; all it wants is consistency and fairness of policy, which should be high up on the agenda for any new British PM.
As the Big Story in the latest edition of ‘India Global Business’ points out, the UK and London have managed to retain their pull factors for India. And, the Indian diaspora has had a crucial role to play in the success story so far, operating as a very active “living bridge” christened by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Incidentally, many have been abandoning their traditionally staunch support for the Opposition Labour Party in the face of exactly the kind of certainty and clarity that has been in short supply across British politics for some time now.
It is extremely important that Britain’s new leader tackles this deficit head on and is unequivocal on the India-UK alliance on issues such as counterterrorism and tackling the root causes of terror in the South Asian region. The ongoing Huawei controversy, as the UK grapples with the scale of China’s involvement in its 5G network, is a very timely reminder of some of the other major complications of the region and how India offers an unwavering democratic shield in that sphere.
Despite all the upheavals, it does feel like a tectonic shift is at work which should eventually click the India-UK partnership into a more resolute phase. The UK-India Week, organised by India Inc. in June, could not have come at a better time in the bilateral calendar. The programme for the power-packed set of sessions will kick-start with the first-ever India Day at the House of Lords, leading into a Leaders’ Summit of key Indian and UK stakeholders and conclude with the annual UK-India Awards to celebrate some of the big successes of the winning partnership.
The timing certainly is perfect but for the dance of success to carry on, a lot will depend on who steps into Downing Street next and the kind of conviction the new leader can bring.